Dissociative Episodes: Causes and Treatment Options
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It is common for our minds to wander when we’re bored or uninterested in what’s going on around us. Daydreaming is a common way that we can turn our brains off for a minute and think about the many possibilities of what we wish to be experiencing.

But while daydreaming is common, constantly disconnecting from yourself or your surroundings can cause significant problems in your life and relationships. Dissociating can cause you to lose sight of your identity, emotions and thought processes. If you find that you’re frequently having dissociative thoughts, you may be showing signs of a mental health disorder.

Read on to learn about dissociative episodes, the disorder that can cause them and how to reduce the risk of having them in the future.

The basics of dissociative episodes

A dissociative episode refers to a state of being where you’re disconnected from yourself as well as the world around you. It means that there is a lack of connection between your thoughts, actions and identity. The episodes are often used as a way to block your brain from processing information. The symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the severity and the trigger.

Dissociative episodes can have symptoms including:

  • Memory gaps
  • Having an out-of-body experience
  • Being emotionally numb
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Altered sense of time
  • Tunnel vision
  • Vivid flashbacks

Two of the main components of the episodes are derealization and depersonalization. Derealization means that it feels like the world isn’t real, while depersonalization means that it feels like you’re unattached from your body and/or identity.

Causes of dissociative episodes

If you experience dissociative episodes, it’s often connected to a mental health disorder. They can stem from a dissociative disorder or as a symptom of a trauma or anxiety disorder.

  • PTSDPost-traumatic stress disorder is developed after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that caused psychological and/or physical distress. A person with PTSD may experience dissociation as a coping mechanism for the trauma. In fact, there’s been research conducted about a dissociative subtype of PTSD that causes derealization and depersonalization.
  • Anxiety — There are several anxiety disorders that could cause episodes, including generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorders. Anxiety can make you feel like there are things that are out of your control or that you’re unable to deal with. That can lead you to dissociate to cope with the overwhelming stress and uncertainty.
  • Dissociative disorders — The most common disorders that cause episodes are dissociative disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder. DID is associated with the development of distinct personalities, which create dissociation from self and reality. Another type of dissociative disorder is dissociative amnesia, which means that you are unable to recall details about traumatic events as well as who you are.

How to treat dissociative episodes

It can be disconcerting to have moments of dissociation, whether you realize that you’re having one in the moment or after the fact. The best thing to do is to treat the root of your mental distress. That means consulting with a mental health provider so that they can assess your symptoms and provide a diagnosis.

The best treatment for mental health disorders, especially those that result in dissociation, is psychotherapy. A licensed clinical therapist can help you look at the cause of your episodes from every angle as well as learn other coping mechanisms for potential triggers.

At Lightfully, we use process-based therapy, which is a holistic clinical model that allows us to treat your entire person, not just your dissociative episodes. It uses integrated interventions, such as arousal reduction and somatic integration, to help with the four core processes that contribute to your dissociative episodes. The core processes are difficulty with relationships, behaviors, thoughts and emotions. Each treatment plan is fully customized for each client’s needs.

We use process-based therapy in all four of our levels of care: Residential Treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Partial Hospitalization Program, also called our Day Treatment Program, and Intensive Outpatient Program.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help you deal with dissociative episodes

Any mental health disorder symptom can interfere with your quality of life, especially when that symptom makes you feel like you’re not present in either your body or your environment. We’re here to provide you with the support and resources you need to reduce the chance of future episodes and work toward a more fulfilling life.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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